As the Dark was rising,
There in the dying of the light,
He walked alone,
Dressed in white,
A candle of hope.
The rain fell long,
There in the dying of the light,
As the Dark was rising.
A Grand Gesture, An Iconic Moment
They speak better with gestures than words–the Popes through the ages. Words can be misunderstood, easily forgotten. Not gestures, not the simple acts of humanity. We saw that last Friday, March 27 in the eerily empty St. Peter’s square. There at dusk with the twilight descending into night, walked the pontiff in his white cassock, alone in the rain, approaching St. Peter’s Basilica. This was no St. John Paul the Great, striding to meet the doomed Communist leaders of Eastern Europe. This was someone different, an old man in his eighties, whose hip and knee hurt so much that he lurched as much as walked on those ancient stones of that piazza. It says much about him that he did not look pathetic or crippled. Some commented on how lonely the whole scene was, but that is not what I saw. I saw a figure dressed in white, gleaming in the darkness, his march toward the ancient Church a deliberate Calvary. Bent by age, surely, but bent also by the Cross of the world he carried on his shoulders–the Cross of a plague so frightening that it brought the world close to the stillness of death.
He walked alone. But he did not flee into the Basilica whose doors were wide open, a warm glow of light beckoning in anyone caught out in that rain. No. He walked to a chair and a pulpit, under a simple canopy, and while still in the dark, out in the rain, gave a splendid homily on how we are in the boat with Christ and the apostles as the storm besieges and threatens to capsize them. He urges the same words to us as did Christ to the apostles, “Do not be afraid!”
Then he walks into the Basilica after stopping at the Plague Crucifix which long ago stopped a pestilence, and halting before an image of the Virgin that once did the same. He merges with the light of the Basilica as the host is brought forward and placed in a golden receptacle shaped like the sun. Pope Francis grasps the monstrance; it is heavy for him. So heavy, it looks like he might drop it. Yet, he is able to walk out the doorway to the portico. There is a burning brazier of incense casting smoke to the heavens in front of the pillars of the Basilica. Our prayers for deliverance rise like incense, it says. Then he lifts the host, and blesses the ancient city of Rome and the world.
A Broken Fragile Church Still Able To Bring Healing
If you saw it, maybe you felt as I did, as did so many others as we sighed in sorrow yet in relief. Because in the midst of pain, he brought the Christ of hope to bless us all. We felt like we might survive the blight on our bodies and souls. Then, both he and the Christ he serves were gone, and the doors were closed, and the rain still fell. But the image remained of the man in white who stood against the night, against the Dark that was rising. The man who held in his heart, for a moment, the hearts of billions.
Grand gestures make papacies. This reign has lasted seven years so far. It has been memorable. But it has never been immortalized until now. Ad multos annos, Holy Father, and thank you for showing the world a broken, fragile Catholic Church that still has the power to heal.